What does my doctor check during a physical exam?

If your doctor suspects that you might have high blood pressure, he or she will give you a thorough physical exam to help rule out other health problems that may be causing your symptoms. If you already have a confirmed diagnosis of high blood pressure, you're at greater risk for developing problems with your eyes, neck, heart, lungs, arms, hands, legs, feet, and nerves. For this reason, your doctor will pay particular attention to those areas during your exam. Here's what you can expect during the exam. Your doctor will check the following:

  • Height and weight. Your doctor may also check your waist measurement because being overweight is a risk factor for high blood pressure.
  • Eyes. Your doctor will check for retinopathy, looking for narrowed arteries and small areas of bleeding in the blood vessels in the back of your eyes.
  • Neck. Your doctor will check your pulses and look for distended veins or an enlarged thyroid gland.
  • Heart. Using a stethoscope, your doctor will listen for changes in rate and rhythm, increased size, or abnormal sounds such as murmurs or extra heart sounds. He or she may run tests such as an electrocardiogram, called an ECG for short.
  • Lungs. Using a stethoscope, your doctor will listen for abnormal sounds that may indicate any decrease in air movement or fluid in the lungs.
  • Arms, hands, legs, and feet. In these areas, your doctor checks your pulses, looks for swelling, and may use a stethoscope to listen for any abnormal sounds in the blood vessels.
  • Reflexes. Using a small rubber reflex hammer, your doctor will gently tap tendons in different places of your body, such as in your knee. This allows the doctor to see if there has been any damage to the nervous system.

Your doctor will also ask you about your diet and the amount of physical activity that you get.


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